Building team spirit for Team GB at Rio Olympics 2016 – the host leader way

team-gb-medal-winnersTeam GB (as the UK national team is rather oddly known at the Olympics) have had an extremely successful games in Rio.  A record medal haul, success in an unprecedented number of sports, London 2012 winners defending their Olympic titles, new stars emerging – it’s all gone very well.  And why?  This Guardian article by Owen Gibson lists five factors: Lottery funding, a no-compromise culture, the high-performance system, new stars emerging,… and team spirit. 

From the perspective of host leadership, building team spirit is a key element – engaging these rugged individuals together is not straightforward, particularly when they have spent years training either alone or with team-mates from their discipline.  It seems that one key is the experience of the patriotically-named Mark England, the ‘chef de mission’ (head of the whole delegation) since the Salt Lake City winter games in 2002.  England has been working to engage the larger numbers in various ways, such as making more of the pre-games training camp to help the athletes meet and bond.

From a host leadership perspective, two things are mentioned that are particularly interesting.  Firstly, all the team members are now given their official Team GB kit at special ceremonies.  This is an excellent example of using the Gatekeeper role in host leadership, defining boundaries and welcoming people across them.  If you want to be part of the team, you participate in the ceremony of joining it.  This kind of event can be seen as a sort of ritual, a marking of transition, where both the person concerned and the rest of the team can see them publically joining and committing to the team.  Host leaders know the power of these welcoming events and take care to organise and execute them well. 

Rituals like this have until recently felt a bit alien to the British sensibility.  We have watched other nations like the USA and Canada swearing allegiance to the flag and that sort of thing with a sense of ‘oh come on, don’t take yourself so seriously’.  However, it’s becoming increasingly clear to even the self-deprecating Brits that there is a value in marking transitions seriously and publically – we started welcoming new citizens the country at ceremonies in 2004.  Although many of my fellow countrymen and women still find the idea toe-curling, the ceremonies are popular with the new citizens and their families who feel welcomed and included.

Along with this, Owen Gibson mentions that senior and world-famous athletes like tennis star Andy Murray, top golfer Justin Rose, cycling hero Sir Bradley Wiggins and rower/nost decorated female Olympian Katherine Grainger all get involved, be there, talk with the younger athletes and set a good example is also vital.  In host leadership we call this Co-participation; if you want to lead something, you need to find ways to join in with it as well.  It’s not good telling everyone to participate (in for example, a ceremony of welcome) and then not doing it yourself – one rule for the leader and another for everyone else won’t build the kind of engagement and relationships that are important. And this goes for the team in the office or the factory floor as much as in the Olympic Games.

Come and find out more about the leadership roles of Gatekeeper and Co-participator, as well as many other aspects of leading as a host, at our first Host Leadership Gathering in London from 14-16 September.  The main gathering is on Thursday 15 September, preceded by an introduction workshop and followed by a day of Open Space where everyone is welcome to raise questions and topics, as well as getting live help with leadership challenges.  Details at http://hostleadership.com/gathering, booking at http://hostleadership.eventbrite.co.uk, download the programme at http://tinyurl.com/hostgathering2016

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